Shinji Ono Speaks Football with Junpiter Futbol
Sapporo Consadole’s star midfielder, Shinji Ono & his Suna Shinji Soccer School, joint venture with his team mate, Sunakawa Makoto, are in town to conduct soccer clinics under the invitation of Global Football Academy. The
Sapporo Consadole’s star midfielder, Shinji Ono & his Suna Shinji Soccer School, joint venture with his team mate, Sunakawa Makoto, are in town to conduct soccer clinics under the invitation of Global Football Academy. The former Feyenoord, Western Sydney Wanderers, VfL Bochum & Asian Player of the Year Award winner took a little time off his hectic schedule to meet up with Junpiter Futbol the moment he arrived. So how does he feel about playing in France 98, how he feels about Nakata & how he feels about playing Real Madrid? “O-No”! You shouldn’t miss these…
JPF: You are always seen playing football with a smile on your face, tell us what does football mean to Shinji Ono?
SO: Football is my life. It is important for me to play with a smile so that I can enjoy my football and perform to my best. Honestly, I do feel stress too but I do not want to show it to the supporters who come all the way to look at me feeling stress. I do not want them to be stressed or worried about the team.
JPF: You started playing football since young and signed with Urawa Reds immediately after graduating from High School. Able to share with us how’s your schooling day like?
SO: I am never a student who loves going to school (haha). I never want to learn another thing other than playing football. Football has always been the only thing I wanted to do. As I have already been representing Japan National Youth since young, I am very sure that all I wanted to do after I graduated was to play football which eventually I did by signing with Urawa Reds. With that signing, I turned professional and have never looked back since.
JPF: Which player did you look up to when you were young?
SO: No doubt, it has to be Diego Maradona! (JPF: Japanese player?) Ruy Ramos! Everytime when he had the ball, you knew that something magical was going to happen!
JPF: You have played in some of the major leagues in Europe as well as in Asia, which club/league is the most memorable one?
SO: All. All the memories of all the clubs or leagues which I have played in are equally memorable and precious to me. Each club and league has its own culture, challenges and interesting parts which are all different and unique. I can’t single out any one.
JPF: Compared to your playing time at Feyenoord as an Asian, was playing for Western Sydney Wanderers more pressuring for you as you are signed as a marquee player?
SO: Not exactly. I have to admit I was feeling nervous before I joined Wanderers but that was because both Emile Heskey and Alessandro Del Piero were also going to play in the A-League as marquee players too. Those two have won and achieved more in their careers than me. So to be classified as marquee player, similar to both of them, it certainly made me nervous. However, when I have settled down, I started to enjoy my football, everything went well.
JPF: How do you prepare yourself prior to every game?
SO: I do not have a specific routine but prior to each game, I focus a lot on my training. I would visualize every training to be a match and practice my move hoping that I could perform my best in the very next game. Not so much on my diet too. I eat almost everything that I like but I keep track of my weight.
JPF: Able to share with us more on the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship where you led Japan to the Final eventually losing 4-0 to Spain. What happened in the Final after the impressive run in the tournament?
SO: Maybe it’s because I did not play in the Final, haha! I picked up my second yellow card in the Semi-final and I missed the Final. I am not sure if the score would be different if I were to play but credit must not be taken away from our team. Most of us in that team were already training together since we were 15yrs old. To defeat big teams such as England, Portugal, Mexico and Uruguay in the tournament was extremely great achievement, it’s considered effort paid off.
JPF: Being the youngest ever to represent Japan in a World Cup at just 18yrs old, can you still recall how you felt and how you coped with the expectation and pressure?
SO: All the players whom I have been training with are usually those whom I have seen from the Television. Never did I imagine that I would be training along with them one of these days. Of course I am very nervous as I was the youngest in the squad. Because of that, I have gathered huge attention from the media. Fortunately, the seniors in the team helped me a lot. Gradually, I became relaxed. I was able to adjust myself and perform normally.
JPF: Were you surprised to learn that you have made the final team to represent Japan in France 98 considering key players such as Kazuyoshi Miura and Tsuyoshi Kitazawa were axed?
SO: Absolutely. I never thought that I would be in the final squad especially knowing that experienced player such as Kazu was left out. Another thing which surprised me was the jersey number which they presented to me – number 11. That’s a “big” number for Japanese football which sometimes I thought that I had to do something magical or creative since I was given that jersey number! Anyway, I was only involved briefly in France 98 but I enjoyed the experience.
JPF: How challenging it was for you to constantly have to fight for a First XI spot in the National Team especially you are born in an era where they are many good midfielders such as Shunsuke Nakamura, Junichi Inamoto & Hidetoshi Nakata?
SO: Well, all of us have different playing styles and I respect all of them very much. For that, I leave it to the coach. If the coach selects me to play in the starting line up, I will definitely do my best though I feel that I am always ready and confident to be the First XI in every match.
JPF: Let’s talk about Nakata, in your opinion how different (play) are the both of you?
SO: Nakata has good skill, good technique, strong mentality and most importantly he’s smart. I think I am also an intelligent player too but Nakata is more of a complete player to me. (JPF: Do you think that you are born in the wrong era where there were so many good midfielders around?) Maybe….
JPF: Who is the toughest opponent you have ever played against in your career thus far?
SO: The toughest player I have played was Claude Makelele. Both Feyenoord and Real Madrid met in the UEFA Super Cup. Then, Real Madrid had all the big players, Zidane, Figo, Raul, Carlos and with Makelele, it’s really tough for us and me.
JPF: What do you think of the current Japan National Team?
SO: I think the current team has all the good players to make it work. Players like Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa are outstanding. With their experiences in Europe, they are getting more confident and certainly have the ability to lift Japan up to another level.
JPF: You have played against Singapore on a number of occasions, for example in year 2000 Asian Cup Qualifier & year 2004 World Cup Qualifier. Do you still remember those games?
SO: Yes, especially the 2004′s game. Singapore did well with their defending and we only managed to score late in the game to secure the victory. In general, it’s always tough to play against fellow Asian countries or Southeast Asian countries. Every team tends to deploy the same tactics when they play Japan, which is to defend deep in their halve then strike with counter-attack. The defensive tactics make it very hard for Japan to play.
JPF: You have won the Asian Young Player of the Year Award in 1998. 4 years later, you bagged the top honor, Asian Footballer of the Year Award. Tell us more about how it feels to receive such accolade.
SO: I am very happy and honored with the Individual Awards. My playing time and achievements with Feyenoord certainly helped in contributing me receiving the Asian Footballer of the Year Award. Those Awards are not just Awards, they have given me great motivation to work even harder to repay all the faith and trust which many people have given me.
JPF: Together with Sunakawa Makoto, you have launched Suna Shinji Soccer School. Able to share with us more on your School?
SO: After so many years of playing the game, I think I wanted to share my experience which I have gathered over the years to the next generation. I want to show the young players how to improve themselves by sharing and coaching them the proper technique and control. Initially, we started this in Japan but an opportunity in Singapore to collaborate with Global Football Academy came, here we are.
JPF: Christmas is round the corner. Can you make a quick Christmas wish for Japan National Team? A Christmas wish for Singapore football? And lastly, a Christmas wish for yourself?
SO: For Japan National Team, I wish that they can continue to improve. Ultimately target is to go all the way to win the World Cup one day. (JPF: Christmas wish for Singapore football?) Once Japan has won the World Cup, I wish Singapore will win the World Cup in the following edition. (JPF: Christmas wish for youself?) Erm… I wish that I can watch Japan vs Singapore in a World Cup Final!